All I want for Xmas is my own ray gun.
I know what you’re thinking; “A ray gun? You’ll shoot your eye out kid!”
Well yes, but then I’ll have it replaced with a bionic eye, so that’s cool too.
But seriously, I am aware that anyone who knows me well enough to grasp how much I love ray guns also knows me well enough to keep firearms and sharp objects well away from me, so I’ll restrict this article to just toy guns and replicas. (Although if you do happen to know a source for a genuine accept-no-substitutes zap-‘em ray gun, please contact me directly-do not go through the editors).
Rayguns come in three types; toys, props and objects d’art. And two designs,
which boil down to what one website I ran across terms ‘zap or pew’, I’m all about the zap, personally; nice clean beam weapons with simply blast those evil enemies out of existence, ideally at the atomic level. Bullets are lame, even if you etch them with mystical runes or curve their trajectory with the power of your mind. Laser, plasma, particle, pulse. That is where it’s at.
In the toy department the best are the classics; pre-1970 designs, ideally in metal rather than plastic. Steel, iron or more commonly die-cast metal. The little kid tin lithos, painted up in bright colors and space scenes do have a charm of their own, but I prefer the guns that look like they could conceivably be a real weapon from some alternate universe. One where cars fly and have fins the size of flatscreens.
At the top of my list of desire is the Hubley Atomic Disintegrator, considered by many to be the most beautiful of the classic toy ray guns. A pop art poem in cast iron and bubblegum red, the Hubley is one of the few rayguns of the fifties that looks like it could actually fuck some shit up, there is a solidity to its design that is absent from most of its peers and a lethality to the snub-nosed body that meshes strangely well with the smooth ergonomic cherry-red grip. It is also familiar to fans of late night film excellence from its appearance as a thencheap prop in ‘Teenagers from Outer Space’.
Next in line is the Cosmic Ray from J.E. Stevens, which was a model that never went into production and is therefore impossible to find. The two prototypes are supposedly still owned by the Stevens family, so no amount of money will buy you one. Eleven inches of slick 1950’s lines in unblemished chrome, it is the platonic ideal of the word ‘raygun’. When I close my eyes and think “raygun” the Cosmic Ray is what I visualize. In a way it’s fitting that it doesn’t exist as a tangible object.
Closer to our plane of existence are the ubiquitous Buck Rogers Daisy guns. The most famous two are 1930’s designs, the XZ-38 Disintegrator and the XZ-31 Rocket Pistol. The XZ-31 is okay, but looks more or less like a slightly modified Luger, and comes in black or matte steel. The X-38 on the other hand is likely to be more familiar. One of the most popular and easiest to find of the classics, it is from a generation earlier than the two guns already mentioned; pure pulp-era design, no streamlining or chrome here. We’re talking copper finish, Art Deco rings and a fluted barrel. Undeniably futuristic, but modern only from a pre-WWII perspective. This gun seems to exist in the collective subconscious, even if you don’t remember seeing it you’ll probably recognize it.
Finally, another in the chrome dream genre; the Space Outlaw, which is from the 50s but could pass for 1960’s Barbarella gorgeousness. Gothic curves, with a teardrop shaped red window and a strangely menacing, vaguely organic design. This one was reissued numerous times apparently, but is a European gun and therefore hard to find in the US.
Luckily the design elements of these guns can be found lurking in dozens of plastic toys sold on the cheap at dollar stores and outlets. Mostly the 80’s style square designs dominate, more Terminator that Flash Gordon, and although you can find designs that are clearly related to (or stolen from) older models, the lines are generally obscured by cheap one-color molds and even cheaper stickers. But now and then some wonderful ones sneak through, and the modding community, especially in the steampunk crowd, has made some great efforts at turning these into props that sometimes approach wearable art.
I’ve worn such a weapon with a couple of my steampunk/dieselpunk outfits, but as you can see my main love is the pulp magazine cover sci-fi aesthetic, so the costume which I mainly accessorize with a gun is my Space Girl get-up, all-silver or silver and black, which fortunately matches most any color and design.
But in reality carrying a gun while hall-costuming is a pain and a half; I don’t always have a holster the thing, and when I do it usually interferes with sitting down. So the ray gun I am most likely to actually costume with is a trusty little Razer Raygun which has the dual advantage of being cheap and making an enormous amount of noise when you press the trigger. Meaning that if I lose it or leave it behind, it doesn’t stay lost for long; human nature being what it is, whoever picks it up always pulls the trigger, alerting me to its absence.
Comfort and price are certainly two reasons I don’t often pick up prop or replica guns. But another is that unfortunately the best genre movies don’t always have the best guns. I wouldn’t say no to owning the Deckard’s blaster from Blade Runner or a PPG from Babylon 5, of course, but film quality and ray gun hotness are sadly unrelated, in fact some of the worst films have the prettiest props.
The first to spring to mind in this category is Padme Amidala’s blaster in The Phantom Menace, it’s sleek and silver and generally unlike most of the weapons you see in the Star Wars universe. Like the costumes from the movie, it deserved a better showcase.
Likewise, the Chronicles of Riddick was fantastic to look at but not a classic for the ages. The Necromonger pistol in it is quite a beaut, of a bulkier design that I normally like but nice.
A film I enjoyed but mostly no one else did; Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, we can all agree that the design was excellent throughout and that includes the wonderful blasters. Just like the rest of the film, they pay perfect tribute to their pulp origins.
Any of these would look good on my Wall o’ Rayguns, but if I had the space (and the cash) I would expand to the sculpture range.
This is a modern category, really and full of amazing things-even if you mostly can’t carry them around;
Weta Workshop makes the Doctor Grordbort line, large pedestal mounted iron guns in gothic designs that live someplace between the end of the Steampunk Era and the start of the Atomic Age, these are amazing but not what you would call portable.
Raku Rayguns makes sumptuous one-of-a-kind ceramic guns in surreal shapes and iridescent colors which also have wonderful names such as the Ackerman Ack-Ack Ray.
And there’s a whole subset of kinetic and found object artists who also put out a range of rayguns, such as Stephen Lestat, Clayton Bailey and Jeff de Boer. Many of them make robots and rocket ships as well, so it’s well worth spending a few hours looking through their galleries inspiration.
Yipe! Volume 2, Issue 12, December 2010